Fotograf Magazine

Sidsel Meineche Hansen

Transfer Through the Collective Imagination

One hot summer day, I happened to reach for H. G. Wells’s 1923 novel Men Like Gods. In it, Wells presents his idea of the world of Utopia. People here are precisely carved castings of ancient deities representing the ideal potential development of our society at some point millenia in the future. Wells’s vision is based on the application of rigorous, centuries-long eugenic engineering. Given that the novel is written before World War II, neither the author nor the visitors from ‘our’ world see any problem with this approach. A trembling discomfort about this axis of narration led me back to Huxley’s novel Brave New World, the dystopian antithesis of Wells’s paradise. Huxley’s world of the future is a space where biototality dominates completely. People are born artificially, fully physically adapted to be placed in a particular echelon of caste-segregated society, the concept of family does not exist, everyone (if sufficiently privileged in the food chain) alternates sexual partners on a daily basis, and – at the slightest hint of anxiety – a more than sufficient quantity of euphoric chemical drugs or other various banal entertainments is never far away. Society and its individual bodies function as a carefully oiled Ford production line.

In recent years, we have all returned often to Orwell’s novel, 1984, in reference to surveillance capitalism or platform ca- pitalism. But Brave New World, with its emphasis on biopolitics’ total dominance of constructed happiness seems to be a much fuller picture of our times. In a recent interview, phi- losopher McKenzie Wark mentions that we are all, depending on which side of the political spectrum we stand on, hooked on a wide range of consumable incentives, whether produced by the pharmaceutical and food markets or the trade in legal and illegal drugs. In his book Testo Junkie: Sex, Drugs, and Biopolitics, the philosopher Paul B. Preciado defines the historic milestone of the 1950s – the time of the concept of gender and the possibility of its clinical change as well as the invention of the birth control pill – as a moment when society moved from disciplinary-based control to pharmaceutical-pornographic control.

While literary visions offer critical variations on the consequences of the course of contemporary society, and while theoretical analysis penetrates a network of causes and effects, the work of Sidsel Meineche Hansen, a Danish artist based in London, attempts, by entering directly into the core of specific contemporary problems, to accentuate their thorniness. In her work, Meineche Hansen engages the psychological and physical consequences of late capitalism with the intention of determining the body’s possibilities of resistance to its own commodification and exploitation. Meineche Hansen consistently uses the tools and language of the themes in her feminist and queer critiques, be it the pharmaceutical industry or gender stereotypes in the gaming and pornographic industries. She works with sexualized 3D avatars acquired on internet databases, with the constructedness of pornography or the marketing strategies of large pharmaceutical companies. The depression, stress and nervousness that accompany our daily work commitments and which we have learned to perceive as normal consequences of continuous productivity, are—according to Meineche Hansen—actually true feedback from the body on the dysfunction of the current system, both personal and professional.

A series of laser-cut drawings in wood called The Manual Labor Series (2013) returns to the physical con- sequences of automated manual work on the human body and the hierarchy between its material and intangible outputs. She suggests this dichotomy by choosing a medium that is classical but offset by the input of digital technology. ONEself (2015) is a wooden statue of a hypersexualized female figure in an office chair with head engulfed by a long-horned giant snake, symbolizing the psychopharma- ceutical industry.

In her exhibition Second Sex War (2016) at the Gasworks Gallery in London, Meineche Hansen turned to the medium of virtual reality. While we commonly see VR as an opportunity to free ourselves from our bodies and the shackles of everyday life, Meineche Hansen points out that we cannot find personal freedom in VR either, because its parameters are all too connected to the industry that produces it and that uses it only to replicate the patterns experienced in ordinary life. The main protagonist of the VR work, DICKGIRL 3D (X) (2016), is the purchased avatar EVA 3.0, who is equipped with a giant phallus with glowing ones and zeros. After using a headset, the viewer fully connects with this figure in a POV perspective to experience sex with amorphous, quite strongly disturbing, organic matter. No Right Way 2 Cum (2015) shows a masturbating female figure who, on climaxing, squirts out a mass of ejaculate an act that the British Film Council had just banned from being portrayed in the pornography industry. The video Maintenancer (2018) was created as part of the PRE-ORDER I – III series. It follows the shift towards a post-human presence in German public houses thanks to the expan- ding interest in sex robots. For last year‘s exhibition at the Chisenhale Gallery in London, she prepared, among other things, an interactive CGI video, End-Used City (2019), representing the dystopian vision of a company full of digital surveillance.

If we accept the premise that contemporary art, and therefore also the work of Meineche Hansen, sharpens the intensity of today’s problems for their more direct mediation, we need to consider the role of the collective imagination in such a process. Just as Wells or Huxley built their visions on the solid foundations of starting points that make sense in their time and, via fantastic constructions, return to their contexts, so does Meineche Hansen, only on a much shorter trajectory. The length of such a shift or transfer is directly proportional with the degree to which the imagination is commonly shared and thus also with the understanding of the problem. Thanks to her work and that of other artists with similar thematic backgrounds, we are gradually developing a critical apparatus and its linked immunity to the ways in which society is blindly influenced by technical development. We thus strengthen our sensitivity and with it also the language with which we can respond, for example, to a future confrontation with a sex robot, to a digital extension of our own body, or to movement in fully virtual space.

Jen Kratochvil

#37 Uneven ground

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